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How to recognize cancer in the mouth?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. 13% of all deaths in 2008 was attributed to cancer. Oral cancer takes a considerable amount of lives every year. In  the United States alone, around 37,000 people are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer every year. This year, it would have taken the lives of at least 8,000 people. That means, there is someone dying of oral cancer every hour. (Source: WHO)

The problem only grows bigger across the world, with at least 640,000 new cases found every year. In India, the number of oral cancer cases are on the rise. According to a study done in February 2011, India has 86% of the world’s oral cancer cases. Most of the credit goes to our ‘chewing tobacco’ habits.

Oral cancer is also, generally, discovered late in its development, which is quite ironic because you think you would discover the cancer early. Late discoveries are to blame for the high death rates due to oral cancer. (Source: Link)

With the rising number of people being diagnosed with cancers, the fear associated with it also increases. So how do you recognize cancerous tissues?

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Conspiracy Theory Part 2: Your diet may be responsible for more than your weight

One of the things my mother takes pride in, is the fact that she cooks most of the food in her house. In other words, she doesn’t buy a lot of ready-to-eat food at home. That also means food gets cooked in its full nutritional value. And that makes a huge difference, not just in your diet, but in your dental hygiene and health.

So what’s the conspiracy? Refined foods. Available at any store near you. Feel hungry? Grab a cupcake and a can of sweetened aerated beverage or a bag of chips and pack of biscuits. Foods that have been stripped off their true nutrient value and fiber. Food that is so sweet, it could provide sugar for an entire classroom. Foods that get so sticky – there is no way they are going anywhere with a simple mouth rinse.

I’ve had parents trying to get me to tell their children, that they shouldn’t eat chocolates. But in reality, will staying away from chocolates alone keep your teeth free from cavities? Unknown to many, all sugary and sticky foods are good at lodging in the hard-to-clean areas. Sweetened drinks are equally to blame since they can access any corner of the mouth. And in the process of relishing these drinks we swirl them around in our mouths, all the while, exposing them to other areas of the teeth.

Imagine this scenario – you’ve had a nice, sumptuous dinner followed by a rich dessert. Shortly after this, you hit the bed, maybe without even rinsing your mouth. This is what happens – as you sleep, the flow of saliva decreases. As you are  not active, there isn’t anything to stimulate a fresh flow of saliva. And all those foods remain adherent to your teeth overnight. That gives the bacteria, plenty of food to act on and break down into acids. You won’t notice any changes overnight. But watch out for cavities (caries) in the long run.

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How often should I go for my dental check up?

Dentists recommend going for a dental check up, every 6 months. At each visit, you will be checked for any new cavity that has started forming. Old restorations and replacements like crowns or dentures will be examined to make sure they are intact and/or functioning properly. Your oral hygiene will also be scrutinized. The dentist checks for any calculus build up that can be cleaned professionally.

For children, the recommended time to start visiting the dentist, is as early as when they get their first tooth. If you are scheduled for any surgery, it is advisable to get a dental check up done before the surgery. Certain procedures/treatments are not performed on patients who are recuperating, unless it is an emergency. If you are planning a trip away from home, you might want to get your teeth checked. It can help prevent a problem in the new city.

Those with special needs, diabetic patients and those expecting or nursing children should visit their dentist often since they are more susceptible to dental problems. Those who have received dental treatment should not miss their follow-up visits. They help to identify, prevent and resolve any problem that can cause failure of the treatment.

Reasons why you shouldn’t miss your regular dental check up?

Grinding teeth: Stop taking it out on your teeth

Grinding teeth is an involuntary habit that involves excessive clenching, to the point where teeth begin to show signs of damage. Grinding teeth, or bruxism as it is known, is a quite common problem that you may not be aware of, simply because it may be happening when you are sleeping. Mostly, you never notice until someone else actually overhears you grinding your teeth. It can occur due to a couple of reasons, including:

  • Stressful lifestyles. Most people clench their fists when stressed out or angry. But some clench the jaw muscles, unknowingly grinding their teeth.
  • Weird habits like biting on the end of a pencil or excessive chewing of gum can cause damage. Some people mimic rhythm instruments by clicking teeth. Such habits would have originated during childhood or adolescence. It becomes second nature over a period of time and teeth grinding continues, even without the gum or pencil.
  • Nervousness can also cause grinding of the teeth in some cases.

So how do you recognize bruxism? The tooth, being chewed on excessively, will be worn out.
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[Q&A] Infection in a root canal treated tooth

A reader asked:

“I got a root canal done in 1999. However, it has recently started hurting. :(. It’s a dull ache that comes and goes. I saw a dentist and she told me that I need a re-root canal as there is an infection. This was 4 months ago… if a root canal is done it cannot get infected right? I mean the tooth is already ‘dead’. How can it hurt?”

Ideally, a root canal treatment (RCT) done properly shouldn’t cause any problems. But here’s a list of things that could have gone wrong:

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Can smoking cause stains on my teeth?

If you are someone who just started smoking, yes those stains on your teeth could be a result of smoking. They appear as dark brown stains found initially at the back of your teeth (the side facing your tongue). And quite often they cannot be removed by regular brushing. If you brush extra hard using a toothpaste that has very high abrasive content, you may stand a chance at removing the stains. But overdoing it can result in abrasion of the enamel which could result in sensitivity. Another culprit would be betel quid, commonly known as ‘paan’ or smokeless tobacco. Chewing them can definitely stain your teeth.

But more important than the staining aspect, is the fact that they are well known carcinogens. Now for those who do not know what a carcinogen is, it is any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer. Tobacco in all forms is an age old cause of oral cancer, the rate of which is alarmingly on the rise. I have come across patients who have got oral cancer at the usual location where the betel quid is placed. So the best approach would be to quit the use of tobacco altogether.

Other causes of stains on teeth are coffee, tea, wine and other dark colored beverages. Very high fluoride levels in drinking water and tooth paste can also cause stains on the developing teeth of children. It begins as hypoplasia of the enamel (seen as a white pigmentation on teeth). That is why children’s toothpaste is preferred for kids over the regular toothpaste, especially since smaller children have a tendency to swallow them.  Medicines like tetracyclines, if taken during pregnancy by the mother, can cause discoloration in the teeth of the child.

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